Joint relief efforts in Irrawaddy Delta

May 21, 2008 (DVB), A joint rescue team comprised of people from Maha Gandaryon monastery and the Free Funeral Service and celebrities went to Kyaik Lat and Maaupin townships in Irrawaddy division yesterday to donate relief supplies to cyclone victims.

The group took eight trucks to the area and distributed rice, noodle and clothing to the survivors.

In Kyaik Lat, the team could not distribute aid to the people directly because local authorities had closed down three camps there and moved people to Maaupin and Myaung Mya, so the team handed over relief supplies to abbots in local areas and asked them to take care of the distribution.

In refugee camps in Maaupin, the team managed the distribution with permission from local authorities.

The situation of cyclone victims sheltering along the Kyaik Lat-Maaupin road has got progressively worse, DVB was told.

DVB interviewed the Maha Gandaryon abbot to find out the team's recent trip to the delta region.

Abbot: There were no people when we arrived at the refugee camps in Kyaik Lat. The camps were opened in monasteries and temples. We heard that the camps had been closed down and the people were moved to Maaupin and nearby areas. We also heard that some victims remained in the area but they were forced to go back to their place of origin before the cyclone.

As a result, we ended up being unable to reach victims ourselves so we handed over aid to local abbots there and asked them to take care of the distribution. We didn't distribute relief supplies in Maaupin because others, maybe companies, were helping victims there. We only distributed aid to people living between Maaupin and Kyaik Lat.

DVB: Are there refugee camps in Maaupin?

Abbot: There are eight camps there hosting about 5000 victims. It seems that the numbers will increase today due to new arrivals from Kyaik Lat.

DVB: You said you reached three camps in Maaupin. What is the situation like there for refugees?

Abbot: Well, they all are sheltering in either schools or temples. Soldiers, police, local authorities and women (either school teachers or members of the Women's Affairs Association) are positioned at the entrances. It seems that the doors are always shut and people inside cannot get out, as if they are under virtual house arrest. It was easy for us to take care of the distribution because the camps were surrounded but other than that it was as though they were in detention.

DVB: Were you stopped or questioned by the officials when you entered the camps?

Abbot: We were asked if we wanted to distribute aid ourselves. We said yes so they asked us to wait for a bit and then let us enter. We couldn't talk much to the people because we were accompanied by officials all the time. Sometimes we wanted to take photos of our distribution to show our donors but in some places we were allowed and in other places we were begged not to do so. I don't understand why. Most of our direct aid distribution went to people living along the road. In camps, we mainly provided victims with ready-cooked food (wrapped rice with curry).

DVB: You said you saw a place where there are 200 to 300 people living in about 15 houses. When you talked with people did they mention to you anything about their difficulties, such as lack of water, poor living conditions and so on?

Abbot: We received a letter from a village located far away from the places we reached. I don't remember the name of the village. It says there are over 5,000 survivors there but they haven't received any relief supplies to date. No one has heard of those people getting any assistance. We can't judge the health condition of those who we met, but it seems to me that most people don't have enough clothes to wear. We saw so many naked and filthy children. We also saw raw rice exposed to the sun in different places but it was black and I am not sure if people can eat it.

The situation we saw reminds me of the video footage that I have seen on the Discovery channel of people in Africa. When we arrived there I felt as if I was in Africa. I don't know how to describe their situation in words though. They are very pitiable! They are in dire need of help. They approached us as if they were beggars. People told us that in the beginning they had been quite afraid of dead bodies but not anymore because survival became their first priority. As for living conditions, they don't even have enough plastic sheets to make roofs for their shacks. They are using coconut leaves for roofs. We came back in the heavy rain yesterday and saw so many people were sitting, holding their kids in their arms and covering themselves with plastic sheets.

DVB also learned that the joint rescue team would go to Kongyankone in Rangoon Division on Monday and Bogalay in Irrawaddy Division on Tuesday.Reporting by Yee May Aung

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